The Elementary Principles of the World

They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator.

–Romans 1:25

In Colossians 2:8, Paul said false philosophy is “according to the elementary principles of the world.” This is one of the most difficult phrases in Colossians to understand. What are “the elementary principles of the world”? Paul likely had one of three meanings in mind.

First, he might have been referring to nature. Many human philosophies are built on the principle of naturalism. Naturalism says nature is all there is, and the explanations for life’s deepest questions are found in what can be measured and observed.

You may remember the hoopla several years ago when the so-called God particle was found. For years, physicists had been trying to confirm the existence of a subatomic particle that gives everything mass. This particle, known as the Higgs boson, is said to be the glue that holds the universe together. In 2012, scientists at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Switzerland announced they had found a particle that could be the Higgs boson. They believed this tiny particle was “key to understanding why there is diversity and life in the universe.” One physicist even described the Higgs boson by rewriting the creation account in Genesis 1: instead of “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (v. 1), the physicist wrote, “In the beginning, the Higgs field created, by interactions with itself, the unstable stationary point at the top and the stable stationary valley at the bottom of the potential.”

Did this universe really create itself? Are the answers to our biggest questions about existence really found in a subatomic particle? Hebrews 1:3 says Jesus “upholds all things by the word of His power.” The one who made that subatomic particle is the one who holds all things together. But naturalism explains things only in terms of what we can measure and observe.

Second, the phrase “elementary principles of the world” in Colossians 2:8 may refer to astrology. People in Paul’s day believed the position of the stars determined the course of their lives. Two thousand years later, millions of people, including Christians, still consult their horoscopes to determine where their lives are going.

Third, Paul may have been referring to the teaching of the Colossian heretics. The phrase “elementary principles” is a translation of the Greek word stoicheia, which literally means “things in a row,” such as the ABCs. Perhaps Paul was saying, “Your human philosophy is as elementary as the ABCs.” Ultimately, human philosophy is empty to provide lasting answers.

***

Today’s devotion is adapted from “The Problem with Philosophy” by Dr. Robert Jeffress, 2012.

Dennis Overbye, “Physicists Find Elusive Particle Seen as Key to Universe,” New York Times, July 4, 2012, https://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/05/science/cern-physicists-may-have-discovered-higgs-boson-particle.html; Luboš Motl, as quoted in Jesus Diaz, “Why God Particle Is a Perfect Name for the Higgs Boson,” Gizmodo, December 18, 2011, https://gizmodo.com/why-god-particle-is-a-perfect-name-for-the-higgs-boson-5869174.

Scripture quotations taken from the (NASB®) New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. All rights reserved. www.lockman.org.

 

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